After our introduction to the Marae, we headed out to the back of a farm to find a series of cascading rock pools. It was wonderful to return to nature and camp without anyone in sight.

We’d originally received vague directions from locals — turn off the main road, drive past a house and up the back hills. We weren’t sure we were heading in the right direction, and no one was at the house to ask, so we continued on tentatively until we saw a sign clearly marked “Rock Pools”.

We drove up a steep hill on a gravel track. The road was on a cattle farm, but the road was maintained by the telecommunications companies that owned the repeater stations at the summit of the hill.

At the top, the track began to peter out, and we weren’t exactly sure where to go to find the pools. Instead of worrying, we simply set up camp, lit a small fire and cooked dinner.

View to the east, March 2011
Our view from the top of the world extended to the ocean at the east and north.

Lauren and Delaney on top of the mountain, March 2011
It has been nice to get out into the wilds of nature. We feel so free in a beautiful space such as this!

In the morning, as we were enjoying breakfast in the truck, Aisha announced that she could see a man with a backpack through the truck’s window. Incredulous, David quickly ran outside to catch up with the hiker, but he was gone.

Soon, however, another pair of hikers appeared on the crest of the rise. We hailed them, and they stopped to chat, introducing themselves as part of the local ramblers’ group. Many different nationalities were represented within the club — mostly comprised of senior citizens — and today’s hiking group consisted of Kiwis, Americans, Germans and Canadians. They were all heading to the rock pools and gave us directions of how to get there, adding that although the track was a bit difficult, it wasn’t too far.

Quickly, we packed some snacks and put shoes on the girls. We were eager to follow the crowd so we wouldn’t get lost.

However, by the time we and all four daughters were ready, the hikers were out of sight. We hurried to catch up and followed a vague path first across grassy slopes and then through dense underbrush.

The path was well-marked through the trees — later I discovered that it was one of the hiking group that had tied lengths of bright orange plastic to tree trunks a couple years ago. The markers were placed at frequent intervals, making it easy for Aisha to recognise the way so she led our procession boldly.

We wandered through the manuka forest, winding our way around tree trunks and over roots and vines, crossing one creek only to follow a second one’s meandering down a gradual slope.

When the creek widened out, it was at the location that old Kauri loggers used to dam the river. The men would fill the dam with tree trunks and when the pool was full, they’d knock out the dam, sending the kauri logs rolling downstream in a wall of water and wood where they would finally be retrieved from the bay.

Our main destination was a series of stepped, round rock pools cascading down black basalt cliffs. Each pool was a deep circle filled with icy grey-green water. When we reached the main picnic area, the hikers were already sitting in small groups, perching precariously on the sloping volcanic rock.

We greeted them and sat down to share our own snack of fruit and nuts. Two of the elderly ladies had entered the water, and they warned us that it was very cold. David and I each took a turn, bravely jumping into a pool before scrambling hastily back out. The pools were very deep — we couldn’t touch the bottom. If the temperature has been kinder, it would be a perfect natural location for a display of high dives.

On our trek back, we met a Canadian couple on the path. They managed to reach the rock pools, rest, swim and then head back up the path — overtaking us on the climb back up the mountain to our truck.

Later, we were resting from our exertions at the truck — I was reading to the girls and David was cooking — when the landowner rode up on his four-wheeled motorbike. Mike was surprised that our truck made it up the steep track. He warned us against starting a campfire so close to a protected forest. Once he got over his shock of our presence, he agreed that we could camp another night at the top of the hill.

Brioni wearing a crown of flowers, March 2011
While we're surrounded by fields of flowers, I've been practicing my daisy-chain-making skills. I have no shortage of willing models!

In the night, the wind whipped up and blew the truck around. Our insulation has proven to be a good investment as we stay very warm inside. Our combined body heat provides the necessary warmth and some nights we find ourselves too warm and need to open a window to cool the interior.

In the morning we made a slow descent back to the highway. We stopped at the bottom farm, and David enjoyed a long talk with Mike. It was good to start a relationship with him after spending two nights on his land. He’s very blessed to be the custodian of the land that leads to the rock pools!